SMALL HOMINID of the Indian subcontinent.
Etymology: Veddah (Indo-Aryan) word, possibly coined from niya-atha ("one who possesses nails"). Also possibly derived from Nishtida, the name given by Indo-Aryan speakers to the earlier inhabitants of India; the Sinhala form was Nigadiwa or Nishadiwa, which the aboriginal Veddah people of Sri Lanka turned into Nit-taewo.
Variant names: Nittavo, Nittawo, Vanara (Sinhala/Indo-Aryan, "man of the woods").
Physical description: Height, 3-4 feet. Females are smaller than the males. Shaggy, red body-hair, either covering the entire body or confined to the legs. Dark skin. Straight head-hair. Short, powerful arms and hands. Long nails or claws.
Behavior: Erect posture. Twittering language, said to have been understood by the Veddah people with whom they were at constant war.
Food consists of raw game, including squirrels, deer, lizards, tortoises, and crocodiles. Said to disembowel their game (as well as their enemies) with their long nails.
Distribution: The Yala National Park area in southeastern Sri Lanka.
Present status: Exterminated at the end of the eighteenth century by the Veddas, who rounded up the last of these creatures, moved them into a cave, and set a fire at the cave's entrance for three days, asphyxiating them. Possible explanations:
(1) A conjectured short-statured race of people related to the Semang of Malaysia, the Negritos of the Philippines, or the Andamanese.
(2) Surviving Homo erectus, which could have reached the island when it was attached to India several times prior to 5000 B.C. An isolated population might have produced a race of smaller stature.
(3) The Hoolock gibbon (Hylobates hoolock) of northern India is barely 3 feet tall when it walks upright, and it is primarily a vegetarian, except for eating birds' eggs and spiders.
(4) The Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) of Sri Lanka has black fur, rarely stands upright, and is primarily vegetarian.
Sources: Hugh Nevill, "The Nittaewo of Ceylon," The Taprobanian 1, no. 3 (February 1886): 66-68; Frederick Lewis, "Notes on Animal and Plant Life in the Vedda Country," Spolia Zeylanica 10 (1915): 119, 128-130; Richard L. Spittel, "Leanama, Land of the Nittaewo," Lons 1 (1936): 37-46; William C. Osman Hill, "Nittaewo, an Unsolved Problem of Ceylon," Loris 4 (1945): 251-262; Bernard Heuvelmans, On the Track ofUnknown Animals (New York: Hill and Wang, 1958), pp. 87-107; Richard L. Spittel, "Legend of the Nittaewo," Loris 10 (June 1964): 19-22; A. T. Rambukwella, "The Nittaewo of Mahalenama," Loris 10 (December 1966): 367-370.
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